A warm welcome to Zingcreed, the blog which says exactly what it thinks about the church with no holds barred. Criticism where due and praise where praise is due. ‘Practical Christianity’ is a series of Posts on the Zingcreed blog outlining positive things some Christians have done to make our world a better place. Two brave Christians: Sam Walton (a Quaker) and Rev Dan ‘Woody’ Woodhouse, a newly ordained Methodist Minister recently took their hammers to an airbase to damage a warplane, i.e. they tried to do the biblical thing and turn a sword into a ploughshare. Here is Dan’s account of that brave attempt.
The most peculiar thing about attempting to disarm multi-million pound death machines is that to me at no point did it seem that odd.
Also, strange was the sense of calm that I had driving to the base. Remembering well the tactical loo break at the side of the road outside of the village of Warton whilst peacefully, and in wonder, looking up at the thousands of stars in the winter’s perfectly clear early morning sky.
Which is not to make myself out to be some kind of rock and roll activist that takes all in a stride, nor to say that it was easy or without apprehension.
In fact, regarding the latter, I felt under great stress in the days running up to the action. Generally having an almost constant sense of heightened anxiousness as well as even suffering a panic attack; a thing I have not experienced even once since my teens when debilitating panic attacks were common place.
So the questions are why did it seem so normal? Then, even if it did, why go through with it at all given the amount of stress and even fear I felt?
To many our actions seemed to come out of nowhere; much like a meteor suddenly blazing and burning out in the sky. However, like our space rock there was a long journey to reach this point. One that is often not considered. It is this journey that makes the action make sense and to me feel normal and imperative, despite, at times, overwhelming anxiousness.
I have campaigned for many years against the inherent, and government complicit, injustices of the arms trade. Most of this pursuit has been spent through more conventional means; meeting with other campaigners, talking to MPs, signing petitions, marching and so on.
At the heart of this has been my faith as a Christian, the example of Christ, and the Prophets who walked the earth before Him. Scripture teaches us to peacefully resist evil, to speak truth to power; always looking to, and usually on behalf of, those who have no voice.
In all of this I hope and campaign for an end to the arms trade. In the mean time I’d be happy if our government would stop actively selling arms to countries who the government itself has listed as at major risk for human rights violations.
This time the voiceless, or covered screams, are found in Yemen and the vicious, repressive killers are the UK’s most valued customer; Saudi Arabia and its coalition.
(Above: The Yemeni flag with an abridged quote from a person suffering in Yemen.)
The official target of the Saudi led, BAE Systems built, aerial bombing campaign were and are rebels. However, at the point where it is being widely reported that many, possibly even more, civilian targets, including mosques, schools, hospitals, transport infrastructure and markets, are being hit, often repeatedly, questions are raised as to what the unofficial targets are.
Either way, despite the rising death toll and reports that over 3milliom people are on the verge of starvation in Yemen the government of the UK turns a blind eye and continues to court Saudi, even sending high ranking royals over to seal more arms deals.
The campaign to stop UK weapons sales continues without success.
The EU parliament, in the wake of UN criticism, votes to suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia, without success.
Humanitarian organisations working in Yemen present evidence of war crimes and demand arms sales cease, without success.
Independent lawyers deem UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia to be breaking U.K., EU and international law and MPs speak out demanding weapons sales stop, without success.
All around people cry out for justice, without success.
Simply put the Government of the UK, and BAE Systems, is complicit in war crimes and will not listen to reason, justice or even law.
When such weight of people and organisation cry out, and the government and arms dealers refuse to listen, the conventional is no longer an option and the unconventional becomes the most normal and vital thing in the world.
However, some will, of course, question if it’s ever expectable to physically damage property which is not our own. “Surely we should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”, implying that Jesus expects his followers to always follow the law of the land. In answer, I have a few thoughts.
First, Jesus was in a position where people were looking to trap him, so I do wonder, with the addition of “give to God what is God’s”, if the answer given was designed to avoid the trap whilst also daring us to ask a further question. The question being, what does Caesar have authority over that God does not?
I believe we can all agree that a major purpose of a Christian is to bring heaven to earth. We pray for it every time we pray in the manner in which Jesus taught his disciples. When we read the words of Christ, when referring to the kingdom of heaven or God, he is usually talking of the here and now and not some far off place in which we might one day reside.
It is beyond imagining the hell that Saudi Arabia is inflicting upon Yemen, a hell which is subsidised by U.K. Taxes and a hell that is approved of by ministers and our government. For example, since our action, letters have been leaked between Mr Johnson MP and Liam Fox MP. News broke that over 140 innocent people died at a funeral in Yemen, bombed by British weapons and British jets and flown by the Saudi led coalition. Mr Fox MP suggested that further weapons sales should stop. However, Mr Johnson MP, ignoring this war crime and all the others, insisted sales continue.
When a British arms company, BAE Systems, and the British government are supplying the means for Saudi Arabia to bring about a hell on earth, in Yemen, very similar to what the U.K. suffered under the Blitz of WW2, how can anyone argue that a Christian, or anyone interested in justice, peace, love, grace, does not have the authority to stop the means by which this hell is being brought about?
However, I’m encouraged that the world has not gone completely mad. As there are even legal precedences for this. As, under U.K. Law, a person is allowed to use reasonable force to stop a crime. There is overwhelming evidence that the activities that BAE Systems and the UK government are involved in, with regards to weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, are criminal. What’s more, this is not the first time this has happened at BAE Warton. 21 years before our action activists broke in and disarmed planes due for war crimes in Indonesia. The group were tried and acquitted. So in fact Sam and I, by using reasonable force to attempt to stop a barbaric crime, have broken no law.
There is also theological precedent. John 2 records the controversial actions of Jesus in the temple. Where Jesus makes a whip, drives animals out and turns over the tables of the money changers. Without context this seems like criminal damage and beyond the bounds of any peaceful activist. However, there is institutional injustice rife at the temple, the centre of the Jewish community.
There were several parts to the temple. The Holy of Holies, where only priests could step. Outside of this the place where male Jews were allowed to worship. Then, where the market is located, the place where female Jews and all gentiles were permitted to worship. So in the immediate the majority of the population were being prevented from encountering God at the temple.
However, this isn’t all, the market was beyond the normal buying and selling of goods, this wasn’t like a church booking to make a little extra cash, but instead designed to fleece the worshipers from start to end.
It was custom to bring animals to the temple for sacrifice. However, on arrival the priests would deem the animals not good enough for sacrifice and so direct people to buy from the approved temple market, where animals would be sold at a premium. However, one could not even simply buy the animals, instead only temple coins could be used, which the money changers would exchange, but at extortionate rates.
It is this scene that Jesus finds. Interestingly, Jesus is a Jewish Rabi and clearly has an open dialogue with other religious leaders, even if this is often strained. So, though this is to some degree conjecture, if Jesus could have ended this practice through conventional means I believe he would have done. However, with no other means left to him, Jesus physically ends the injustice in the temple.
So it is for this that I found myself under stress and fear, but on the night at peace, with my friend Sam, ready to physically stifle at least some of the UK complicit Saudi atrocities.
Though, sadly my regret is that we were stopped at the final door and it will be my lasting memory, whilst waiting with security, thinking of the lives we didn’t directly save that night.
However, it is my hope that through all campaigning, including our action, that I or any other will never be forced into such a position again, because I hope that never again will the UK be so complicit in unbridled butchery.
Post Script: The number of civilians in Yemen on the verge of starvation at the time I wrote this, not long after the January action was just over 3 million. When Sam and I answered bail late April that number had raised to over 7 million people.